A lot of publishing companies are doing it tough and I’ve seen a few recently rolling out bold new strategic plans to tackle the shifting market. Everyone needs a plan of course, but the problem with planning is if you make the wrong plan, and can’t adapt quickly enough, that plan is going to weigh you down and drag your further and further off course.

The publishing industry continues to undergo seismic changes, throwing up new business models and destroying old ones with frightening speed. Just as publishers began to get their head around digital, along came mobile, and what’s next, perhaps wearable technology?

I don’t know exactly what the industry will look like in a few years from now. None of us know for sure, but one of the best ways we can deal with this is to have a more flexible planning model and the key to that.

The key is to radically shorten your planning horizons, and be prepared to continually alter your plan along the way without losing sight of your ultimate goal, i.e. the Stockdale Paradox*

A few ways I think this can be achieved:

  • Have a clear vision of where you’d like your company to be in 5-10 years, but don’t get bogged down in details of technology, platforms or precise business models
  • Don’t bet the farm on one big idea, generate a number of low cost ideas to test the waters
  • Learn from lean start-ups and get new ideas and platforms to the market quickly, before they are perfect, then be prepared to adjust based on customer feedback
  • Don’t get wedded to a product if it’s not working, but be prepared to alter and reconsider the product before abandoning it outright
  • Yearly budget cycles are far too long in a fast changing market, new products should be budgeted no more than 90 days at a time and updated as needed.

To remain nimble and stay in business companies need to move away from announcing bold new directions, major reviews, new strategic plans, and be prepared to make a thousand tiny course corrections on their way to their goal.


*Like most people l learned about this in Good to Great, where author Jim Collins outlines the Stockdale Paradox  based on Rear Admiral James B Stockdale’s point of view after he was released from 8 years in a Vietnamese POW camp. While he never gave up hope of ultimately being rescued, he remained grimly realistic about his short-term prospects. It was the optimists who were sure they’d be ‘out by Christmas’ that were broken by the experience. Jim Collins outlines how the most successful companies need to have a clear and certain long-term goal, but be flexible and not too easily discouraged as the path to that goal throws up unexpected surprises.